When Winston Came to Town

By   /   July 5, 2017  /   35 Comments

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Winston Peters came to my home town of Kumeu last weekend. I thought I’d go along to check him out. I’d wondered why people vote NZ First, though a number of good people I know are keen supporters. I wanted to see if the hype was true about his alleged charisma and charm, get to the bottom of those provocative immigration policies, try to get a measure of the man.

Winston Peters came to my home town of Kumeu last weekend. I thought I’d go along to check him out. I’d wondered why people vote NZ First, though a number of good people I know are keen supporters. I wanted to see if the hype was true about his alleged charisma and charm, get to the bottom of those provocative immigration policies, try to get a measure of the man. Our Helensville seat was ‘owned’ by John Key for the last fifteen years, and we rarely get party leaders to our area, so I was hoping for a spectacle, fire and brimstone maybe, the crowd set alight.

New Zealand First ran a slick operation, with friendly and genuine ‘Young NZ First’ supporters smartly dressed in black branded gear, directing traffic and welcoming meeting goers. Inside, there were more friendly supporters in black, so much that I thought I had stumbled on a gathering of Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church. They stood around like a gentle mafia, seemingly indefatigable in their allegiance and loyalty to the man and his party.

The Kumeu community made a good showing, with the spacious hall quite full. I saw old time locals and new residents all come to see what Winston had to offer. There were Labour and Green supporters that I recognised, maybe just there for some Sunday afternoon entertainment, maybe jaded, looking for a point of difference, something less middle-ground than the current opposition ‘left’.

Winston is touring the country from top to bottom, in a big mobile billboarded bus. Apparently the bus is too big for New Zealand roads, a problem in rural communities and in Auckland traffic, so the main attraction himself was fashionably late. The crowd were entertained by well humoured sound engineers and patient electorate supporters waiting for the man. While we waited and waited, strangers talked to each other and passed the time of day.

One woman we got talking to firmly believed the crime in society today is because current youth know no respect and have no discipline. She was outspoken with support for being able to hit children. She reckons it does kids good to have them living in fear of violence. “It never did us any harm”. She used a leather strop on her own kids and thinks people now should be able to do the same. She thought NZ First might repeal the ‘anti smacking’ law, though in fact they suggest a referendum on the matter. She was ‘tough on crime and punishment’ and thought we should lock more people up. She didn’t realise we already have one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world. She wanted more money from the government to support her retirement, but condemned ‘bludgers and intergenerational unemployment’, with strong racial overtones. She did mention that her own son had been in trouble with the police, and in her opinion, treated in an arbitrary, racist and harsh way, though again I pointed out, that’s what being hard on crime and punishment looks like too.

Conversations like that are like political anthropology, and I wondered, had I met a ‘typical NZ First voter’? Or was she here just to check out Winston too? Was she a swing voter, a jaded National Party voter even? Was she like many of us, with predisposed political values, looking for someone framing the right questions and providing the answers we want to hear. Are we looking for resonance sometimes in the strangest, most cynical of places.

Winston’s entrance itself was suitably staged and dramatic. In a show of political theatre that’s common to all political parties, the leader was welcomed with standing applause. I heard someone murmur, like upon the coming of a king, ‘the silver fox’. It wasn’t quite a cult of personality on show in the Kumeu Hall, but a modest construction of it. All self-presence and cool poise, Winston’s first charm offensive was to smile at the audience.

He fumbled the announcement of the three local woman candidates who include Tracey Martin, party stalwart, current MP and Rodney candidate, Anne Degia-Pala, former Labour candidate and now standing for Kelston, and the Helensville candidate Helen Peterson. I know Tracey and Anne as straight up, hard working women, and they may all be great candidates, but Winston’s introduction was underwhelming. Shane Jones didn’t attend the meeting but he cast a shadowy, slightly noxious pall.

Winston soon hit his stride with fervent support for local causes. He spoke to the issues of the area with his pro-rail policies (trains to Huapai, rail freight to Marsden Point and getting the trucks off the roads). He rightly criticised the government’s Special Housing Areas in Kumeu which are bringing thousands of new houses and cars but little infrastructural improvement. At times the rhetoric got the better of him “I bet you’ve never even been asked what you want”. This, despite the very good engagement from the Rodney Local Board on many issues, most recently in its draft Local Board Plan on which submissions closed on Friday. It’s not true that people have never been asked. But it makes good political sense to appeal to peoples’ feeling of general disenfranchise. Hyperbole and fomented sense of injustice are good politics too.

Winston’s speech was a journey through New Zealand’s glorious and inglorious past. The ghosts and spirit of Seddon, Nash and Holyoake were conjured up. You could almost feel them there. But the darker presence of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson were the devils in the room. There were stories of victims and villains, heroes (Winston himself even), battles between good and evil. New Zealand’s history was laid out like an epic battle, that still goes on. It was like a legend from a Kiwi Game of Thrones. And in this story, Winston is the knight that will ride on in intercession and save the day.

His speech covered predictable, but genuinely worrying touch points in New Zealand contemporary society. In a globalised world, the capture of critical export markets by overseas interests, for example. He singled out the agricultural sector where Synlait and other Chinese companies, have cornered the whole meat and dairy supply chain including ‘our’ exports of infant milk powder formula (to China). We want them to buy our milk and meat, but we don’t want them to make their own, here. It’s hard to discern who is the parasite when we want access to overseas markets at the cost of our environment, but don’t want them investing here directly. We want our cake, and the Chinese to eat it too, and the Chinese want our cake and to eat it too. Though some of the ironic subtleties of exports and market capture were lost on the audience.

Winston talked about the injustice of student loans and the barriers of student fees. In the best line of the show, he said there are students leaving university looking for jobs, owing more than their parents who have one. He talked about poverty, inequality, New Zealand’s long working hours relative to others in the world, our low productivity rates, the absence of added value to our primary production exports. Missing critical factors like geography and political culture, he imagined New Zealand could become another Singapore or Taiwan. He reflected on the underinvestment in tourism infrastructure.

He raised cheers from the audience speaking against the TPPA. He appealed to our sense of national identity, what it is to be a New Zealander, what New Zealand is and what we want it to be.

He roused the audience when he talked about immigration, suggesting people be allowed to come here based only on genuine need, not race or wealth. New Zealand First he said, would not accept ‘economic refugees’. But at the same time he said if we can’t fix this country, he advises people to emigrate and live somewhere else – assumedly as economic refugees.

His speech was a mixture of firm policy proposals and nostalgic interludes. A showman, he’d occasionally flash that full-face smile, or make a joke. But he also reverted to racist stereotypes, making humour about his Scottish and Maori heritage. Not PC at all, but you can bet the audience didn’t care. And when he said he supported ‘one law for all’, whatever your race or wealth, you can bet the audience thought he meant that would be a white law, and that they’d avail themselves of the best law their money could buy if they ever needed to.

I didn’t come away converted into a New Zealand First voter. Though I did observe that at least some in the audience projected their own meaning onto his rhetoric and convinced themselves he and they were right. Winston accurately reflected the problems of our society, they’re common knowledge, but he didn’t have bold answers. He didn’t promise radical reform or a return to nationalisation or fundamental change to address inequality or injustice. His problem definition was sound, but he didn’t propose a fundamental alternative.

He took an unsophisticated approach to nationalism in an interdependent and globalised world. He was nostalgic rather than progressive. I found him slightly dangerous in his racism and how it incited public support. He was Trumpesque in his self-portrait of a man persecuted and misrepresented by the media. In the end, he’s a General in the Long Parade. Or to mix metaphors, he’s been in the game so long, he knows every card in the pack. On the night though, I felt the myth was bigger than the man. I’m not sure if I met any ‘typical NZ First voters’ there, but I went home worried about race relations in New Zealand. There was no revolution in the Kumeu Hall that night, but there was a slightly sinister smouldering.

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35 Comments

  1. countryboy says:

    Divide and concur.

    All it took was one generation of swine to steal away with our tax paid for assets and amenities and in so doing created terrible social upheaval.
    Now that all our money’s in the pockets of the privateers it’s winston’s job of letting us down gently.
    Nothing to see here. Move along. Oh ! Look ! A Chinese ! And one of them there Indians. Get them!

    I’ll never forget the gas bag leaping into the faux fray that was The Wine Box Inquiry.

  2. Afewknowthetruth says:

    Tell voters what they want to hear before an election…..and betray them after it.

    • Jack P says:

      I think Winston is for real. You can’t tromp up and down the country, getting out there and talking to people day in and day out without believing what you stand for. He does and has the experience and shear guts to put his policies into action. The arguments I hear against him are vague generalizations. Most wouldn’t know that Winston was the only politician to put a law through that would stop SDIS and protect New Zealand from foreign take over. It didn’t pass by one vote.. Peter Dunne. If he had one more mp in parliament, our country would be protected from foreign corporations from suing us. You have a problem with that? He works hard, harder than anyone else. I use to be a National supporter back in 2008 but Key just turned me off after the South Canterbury debacle and his tax cuts for the rich. Winston hasn’t let me down. He is still consistent with the same policies. He’d make a good Prime Minister.

      • WILD KATIPO says:

        Hmmm… that title ,…

        Reminds me of a U2 song ….

        I was a sailor, I was lost at sea
        I was under the waves before Peters rescued me
        I was a fighter, I could turn on a thread
        Now I stand accused of the things I’ve said

        When Peters comes to town I’m gonna jump that train
        When Peters comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
        Maybe he was wrong to ever let you down
        But he did what he did before Peters came to town

        Used to make cash under a red sunset
        I was making promises I was soon to forget
        National was pale as the lace of their parliament gowns
        But I left National standing before Peters came to town
        I ran into a juke joint when I heard a guitar scream
        The notes were turning blue, I was dazing in a dream
        As the music played I saw my life turn around
        That was the day before Peters came to town

        When Peters comes to town I’m gonna jump that train
        When Peters comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
        Maybe he was wrong to ever let you down
        But he did what he did before Peters came to town
        When Peters comes to town I’m gonna jump that train
        When Peters comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
        Maybe he was wrong to ever let you down
        But he did what he did before Peters came to town

        When I woke up I was sleeping on the street
        I felt the world was dancing and I was dirt beneath their feet
        When I looked up and I saw English looking down
        But Peters played the crowd the day Peters came to town
        I was there when they crucified Barclay
        I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
        I threw the dice when it pierced Nationals side
        But I’ve seen Peters , – conquer the great divide !!!

        When Peters comes to town I’m gonna catch that train
        When Peters comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
        Maybe he was wrong to ever let you down
        But he did what he did before Peters came to town !!!

        One of my favorite U2 tracks… so for a little cool music as well… here’s the U2 song with BB King .

        B.B. King & U2 – When Love Comes To Town – CLIP – YouTube
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1GLDGiLE4c

  3. savenz says:

    Really interesting commentary. Although not sure you could ever be converted to be a ‘NZ First’ voter!

    I’m not a NZ First voter either and doubt I even could be, BUT feel NZ First are much better than National for the conservative voter.

    National has turned their backs on most people in this country and are now rolling around in their ‘carbon bubble’ on planet Key, talking about their rockstar economy, hiding and manipulating statistics, siphoning off public funds for cronies, pretending their is no housing crisis, pollution crisis, water crisis, transport crisis, immigration crisis, climate change crisis, removing welfare from those that most need it and siphoning it off for corporations in their privatisation models, removing democracy from local government and encouraging/forcing them into their world of privatisation, manipulating tertiary education into their world devoid of art or culture – just worker bees in some sort of National party ‘Brave new world’.

    While I think Labour and Greens and Mana are better bets for a wholesome society, I do agree with NZ First, on areas like TPPA, privatisation, immigration and the way these global agreements are turning out are detrimental for most local people.

    Yep, if you think of life as a spread sheet or live in some sort of identity politics bubble when every one is equal and its more important to give corporations or someone from the other side of the world cart blanche welfare the same as locals with the same rights, so that a theory that eventually they trickle down into less powerful countries or people into some equal and efficient model – Dream on!!!

    When something is not working – you analyse and change it. At least stop it, until you can work out what is wrong. And there is something very wrong with inequality and nope it’s not down to tinkering with PAYE tax brackets because a very small global segment of the world population now are making more and more money, and seem politically so well connected they are essentially driving the ideology of inequality.

    We have seen a taste of it with Peter Thiel getting citizenship here, 21 million profit from a government scheme and has no intention of bothering to live here.

    Something’s wrong.

  4. patricia bremner says:

    Winston trained under Muldoon. It shows.

    • J S Bark J S Bark says:

      It sure bloody does!

    • Castro says:

      Yep; and Muldoon is the closest we’ve had to a socialist leader for forty-odd years.

      • Priss says:

        Castro – you’re taking the mickey, right??

        • Martin C says:

          actually Priss, wash my mouth out, Muldoon was deeply opposed to the economics of neoliberalism. He fought of the ‘colonels’ and loathed Richardson. He would argue the transfer devaluation wold be a disaster.
          So given his support for a welfare state, yes I would agree with Castro.

          As for his character and temperament, well that’s another story.

          • You have a point there, Martin. Muldoon was no socialist – but neither was he a neo-liberal capitalist. In some ways, he was our version of the “Third Way”, Kiwi style.

      • CLEANGREEN says:

        True that Castro 1000% correct.

        Robert was a true Kiwi Patriot!!!!

        Not an indian giver like this corrupt lot are!!!!!

        As they are selling us down the river!!!!

        And even stealing our river water for their mates too!!!!!!

        Nactional now makes me sick!!!!GGGGGRRRRR!@#$%^&*()

      • WILD KATIPO says:

        Castros actually quite right.

        The facts were , whether you liked him or not , he still operated under the old Keynesian economic model. He supported the welfare state from the cradle to the grave. It was a fundamental agreement to how things were done in New Zealand with virtually all party’s.

        I would far rather actually vote for Rob Muldoon and National as it was then if it was put in a time capsule and brought into the year 2017 than just about any of the party’s we have now with neo liberalism.

      • Sumsuch says:

        Co-rrect, despite his appallingness.

        • Samwise says:

          Muldoon “socialist”? No effing way!

          I remember the little Tory halfwit and his only friend washimself. Any socialism we had in NZ was due to successive Labour govts like Savage and Kirk.

          Some of you people either have short memories or weren’t around to endure Muldoon’s anti-worker tirades.

          Stop. Rewriting. History!

          • Martin C says:

            Yes Samwise, He was really toxic. I remember him well and Kirk. That Kirk died when he did was tragic and gave us Muldoon. From “Join Together ” in 1974 we went to division and rule via Apartheid rugby in two short years.

  5. Mike the Lefty says:

    Will New Zealanders ever understand that populist politicians seldom ever live up to their self-promotion?
    When the glory fades, what is left?
    Broken promises and broken dreams.
    And talking about the other big populist of our time.
    What did John Key do when the glory faded?
    He basically said “so long and thanks for all the fish:
    Populists tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to know.
    And Winston is the consummate populist.

    • Priss says:

      Mike – you’ve nailed it 100%.

    • WILD KATIPO says:

      But what people forget is that the populist of today’s neo liberal political world is vastly different from yesteryear’s populist politician of Keynesian economics and the regulated social democracy New Zealand had back then.

      People keep tripping over that fact and forgetting to take that into the equation.

      And one of the things about Peters is that he is old school conservatism by nature. That’s why he could be vocal against the ISDS , immigration asset sales and privatization… because he is a nationalist – not a GLOBALIST .

      And Im happy with that.

      • Mike the Lefty says:

        I actually agree with some things Winston and NZ First stand for.
        Its hard to disagree with a party that wants to put NZers first.
        But there is always that nagging doubt in my mind: If you vote NZ First who are you REALLY supporting?

  6. CLEANGREEN says:

    “There was no revolution in the Kumeu Hall that night, but there was a slightly sinister smouldering”.

    Yes a good wrap Christine.

    I have been to four Winston rally’s and enjoyed them all.

    As you heard in Kumeu he wants to balance the wealth around the country not just splash lots of taxpayer funds in Auckland, Queenstown and other pork belly policy regions.

    You are so right he is very very strong on RAIL@!!!!!

    As Winston graced our region when he came so Gisborne twice in three years to talk up rail!!!!!

    We are the lost region here with no rail now because of Nactional’s mis-management of funds.

    You may not know we had Government steal the maintenance funding from our rail line for “other areas” as stated Kiwirail to Phil Twyford’s grilling questions during the Kiwirail 2012 parliamentary select committee investigation.

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1302/S00183/kiwirail-admits-lack-of-maintenance-led-to-wash-out.htm

    Now Winston has vowed to save our rail if elected into Government.

    Most here love him for his care of the “unfortunate” provinces like Gisborne.

    Winston is the most experienced of all today and we need that experience now to fix this broken country.

    I was formerly a Labour/Green Party voter and member, now beginning to think strategically to finally rid this evil Government at any means possible, otherwise it will become un-liveable in five to ten years.

    • garibaldi says:

      Jesus wept Cleangreen. If you vote NZF you will get a National govt for another three years. Winston is not the messiah , he’s just a naughty boy!!!

      • WILD KATIPO says:

        Well , a naughty boy who likes the odd drop of fine whiskey and a leisurely cigarette , – with 77% of his party membership that wishes a coalition with Labour after this September the 23rd general election…

      • Jack Ramaka says:

        Bullshit he won’t go with National in a Month of Sundays

    • Sumsuch says:

      I’m here, and I don’t love him. Rationality matters to me, rather than his vile emotional populism reliant on scape-goating and twinned to his vile egoism. Muldoon was a social democrat but despicable divide-and-rule too. There are those who kick over others and those who don’t.

  7. Tim O'Shea says:

    Well written Christine. and I completely agree with your synopsis.

  8. Glenn says:

    I remember the days in the 70’s when Rob Muldoon was going from city to city filling up theatres and giving hell and getting hell from a few brave souls. Also Norm Kirk and after his passing Bill Rowling.
    It was called electioneering and was expected of all party leaders.

    Then neoliberalism came in and it stopped. Did they think themselves too high and mighty to face the great unwashed?

    It was good cheap unsanitised, uncensored entertainment while it lasted..

    I give Winston Peters credit for bringing it back.
    It would be nice to see the other party leaders doing the same. But they won’t.

  9. Cemetery Jones says:

    This was a good blog, but two things:

    “He singled out the agricultural sector where Synlait and other Chinese companies, have cornered the whole meat and dairy supply chain including ‘our’ exports of infant milk powder formula (to China). We want them to buy our milk and meat, but we don’t want them to make their own, here.”

    – Nothing wrong with realising that when a country with such tightly focused and strategic continuity in its foreign policy as China starts owning major chunks of your economic base, there’s nothing good to come of it for your people.

    – The ‘our’ thing. On the left, we use the royal ‘our’ for all kinds of sensible things which a libertarian would assert to be private property. Yet when foreigners are involved instead of the rich New Zealanders, we suddenly get squeamish about the same sensible populism. So yes our exports – because if it goes any other way, we get nothing and go nowhere. The same reason we didn’t like National selling our power companies. Don’t get squeamish when the plutocrat isn’t a whiteboy, money is money, and will screw you no matter the colour of the guy who tucks it in his pocker.

  10. Me says:

    The description of the nzf supporter was my mother to a tee. It’s horrifying to think there are people like that everywhere.

    Winnie is the referendum king which just means doing nothing again for the next 5, 10, 15 years for no reason while making it look like you might be doing something maybe.

  11. savenz says:

    BTW

    Rates of youth crime, as measured by appearances in the Youth Court, have plummeted – down more than 50 percent since the introduction of the so-called anti-smacking law in 2007.

    http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2017/07/ask-naughty-children-for-their-side-of-the-story-expert.html

    Like Brexit, you need to be careful what you campaign to win votes for.

    The ‘anti smacking’ law has sent a message that physical violence is not ok, not ok against women, not ok against men, and not ok against children.

    Meth fuelled crime is much more of an issue and needs to be addressed.

  12. Iain Mclean says:

    Christine;

    Excellent piece of work here that has generated worthy and thought provoking comments.

    Well balanced and honest. I am impressed. Congratulations.

    I am beginning to think there will be many ‘closet NZF voters” just like happened
    with Trump.

    Fingers crossed.

    Cheers.